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Claude Lalumiere's Fantastic Fiction
The Man from the Diogenes Club

by Kim Newman

(Monkeybrain Books, $15.95, 389 pages; trade paperback, published in June 2006.)

cover scanIn Kim Newman's postmodern hands, the Diogenes Club -- introduced in Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories as a club for anti-social gentlemen -- has become the front for a secret cabal dedicated to protecting England from menaces too bizarre for public knowledge.

Richard Jeperson, the titular hero of The Man from the Diogenes Club, is the organization's top agent during the 1960s and 1970s. He dresses and behaves like a glam rocker -- much to the distress of some of the club's more traditional members.

Richard can't remember his early childhood. The origins of his fellow agent Vanessa are equally mysterious. As a young man, he saved her life when she was barely a teenager, and she, too, suffers from memory loss.

The ambiguous Jeperson/Vanessa relationship -- which references the similarly percolating sexuality of Steed's and Emma Peel's interactions in the classic mod-spy series The Avengers -- fuels the best of these stories. A few adventures set later in Jeperson's life, in which Vanessa is less present, lack a certain effervescence.

Heavily laced with references to British pop culture, Newman's Diogenes stories involve mind-control, supercomputers, reality-warping psychics, ritual murders, Egyptian curses, megalomaniacs, utopias ... every case gives a fresh twist to pulp-fiction tropes. The adventures ooze glam and mod stylishness.

Although Newman is clearly amusing himself and his readers with his clever literary tricks, he never parodies. Rather, he concocts erudite pastiches in which the dangers are always immediate, the thrills always genuine.

Originally published in
The Montreal Gazette, Saturday, 30 September 2006.

Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction is a series of
capsule reviews first published in the Saturday Books
section of The Montreal Gazette.

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